After grave consultation of all his mental faculties in committee of the whole, he arrived at the following conclusion,—that Miss Cynthia Badlam was the depositary of a secret involving interests which he felt it his business to defend, and of a document which was fraudulently withheld and meant to be used for some unfair purpose. And most assuredly, Master Gridley said to himself, he held a master-key, which, just so certainly as he could make up his mind to use it, would open any secret in the keeping of Miss Cynthia Badlam.
He proceeded, therefore, without delay, to get ready for a visit to that lady at The Poplars. He meant to go thoroughly armed, for he was a very provident old gentleman. His weapons were not exactly of the kind which a housebreaker would provide himself with, but of a somewhat peculiar nature.
Weapon number one was a slip of paper with a date and a few words written upon it. “I think this will fetch the document,” he said to himself, “if it comes to the worst. Not if I can help it,—not if I can help it. But if I cannot get at the heart of this thing otherwise, why, I must come to this. Poor woman!—Poor woman!”
Weapon number two was a small phial containing spirits of hartshorn, sal volatile, very strong, that would stab through the nostrils, like a stiletto, deep into the gray kernels that lie in the core of the brain. Excellent in cases of sudden syncope or fainting, such as sometimes require the opening of windows, the dashing on of cold water, the cutting of stays, perhaps, with a scene of more or less tumultuous perturbation and afflux of clamorous womanhood.
So armed, Byles Gridley, A. M., champion of unprotected innocence, grasped his ivory-handled cane and sallied forth on his way to The Poplars.
Master Byles Gridley calls on miss Cynthia Badlam.
Miss Cynthia Badlam was seated in a small parlor which she was accustomed to consider her own during her long residences at The Poplars. The entry stove warmed it but imperfectly, and she looked pinched and cold, for the evenings were still pretty sharp, and the old house let in the chill blasts, as old houses are in the habit of doing. She was sitting at her table, with a little trunk open before her. She had taken some papers from it, which she was looking over, when a knock at her door announced a visitor, and Master Byles Gridley entered the parlor.
As he came into the room, she gathered the papers together and replaced them in the trunk, which she locked, throwing an unfinished piece of needle-work over it, putting the key in her pocket, and gathering herself up for company. Something of all this Master Gridley saw through his round spectacles, but seemed not to see, and took his seat like a visitor making a call of politeness.